“Defeating A Cancer of the Spirit”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – August 12, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 130; 2 Samuel 18:1-15

    Our Old Testament lesson this morning is absolutely brutal to read. It describes a result when unhealthy attitudes run away with our lives.  King David's son, Absalom, was attempting to take the throne away from his father.  The young man commanded the loyalty of a sizeable army that was moving toward Jerusalem to seize power.  David's army was well-prepared for the attack and went out to meet his son's loyalists.

     The two armies clashed in the countryside.  The fierce fighting continued into the nearby Ephraim Forest where more troops lost their lives.  When the blood-bath ended, twenty thousand men had been killed including Absalom.

     None of the deaths needed to happen that day.  What caused the conflict was an emotional cancer that festered for years in the spirit of Absalom.  Day after day, night after night, Absalom's mind and spirit fantasized about what it would be like to be the king. 

     As a result of his persistent dream, over twenty thousand families were now without a son, husband, or father.  Think of the waste of human life and the economic impact their deaths had on thousands of people all because of the spiritual cancer of one man.

     Last Sunday evening Lois and I watched a segment of the program 60 Minutes. The program gives the viewing audience what true investigative reporting used to be. Today, we get what various informed authorities think about the news.

     One of the episodes featured video footage of the civil war in Syria.  A small number of military leaders in Syria have singled out hospitals as their soft-targets for their continued bombing raids.  Camera crews visited one bombed out hospital after another. 

     Many international doctors and other medical personnel have already been killed. Being visible is so dangerous that hospitals are now being constructed underground. Watching the program made viewers wonder what has to be so important that it would cause the Syrian military to attack hospitals. 

    It takes only a small number of people who have spiritual cancer to create havoc everywhere in the world.

     We must never forget that nineteen well-trained al-Qaeda commandos wanted to communicate to the world that they could strike terror in people at any time and at any place. They chose as their symbols, the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  A fourth target was to be the White House.  That fourth commandeered aircraft, however, crashed in Pennsylvania. Those nineteen men were responsible for 2,996 deaths and over 6,000 injuries.

     It is hard to imagine that a small group of men caused nations everywhere in the world to spend billions of dollars to install analytical machines that require airline travelers to take off their shoes and have their bodies and carry-on luggage scanned just to prevent such insanity from expressing itself again. 

     Recently in the United States, Joseph Pappas shot and killed a heart-surgeon near a Texas medical center where the physician worked. Pappas believed that the doctor was responsible for the death of his mother.  Shortly after her funeral, his seething, smoldering hatred for the surgeon began and continued for the next twenty years. 

     Pappas carefully planned how his day of justice would unfold.  He knew the route the doctor took on his bicycle each morning as he cycled to the medical center where he worked. While on his bicycle, Pappas pulled up beside the surgeon and shot him.  All three shots found their mark. When the police investigators completed their inquiry and were closing in on him, he took his own life. 

     Think of all the lives that the doctor saved.  His life had been ended by a man who had spiritual cancer.  That cancer had been metastasizing for twenty years destroying most values that Pappas once cherished.

     Last week, authorities captured a man who has been charged with starting a number of fires in Southern California.  So far, 8,400 homes and businesses have been destroyed as the fires continue their scorching-march through parts of California.  Much of this damage could have been caused by this man's spiritual cancer.

     When we read the headlines of news publications, we can easily be led to think that anger rules the psyches of countless people.  After all, they are the ones getting the headlines.  Of course, we would be wrong.  We would be terribly wrong. 

     The media loves its breaking news that features issues full of information that few can use.  We do not need information over which we have no control. My hunch is that where there is no audience, there is no show. History may show that most breaking news only encourages and energizes more and more shows that mold people's attitudes and thinking.  Why do the media reporters believe that we need to know what someone just said or did?

     Feel-good deeds of kindness and generosity, break-throughs in science, and new discoveries do not sell newspapers nor do they gain viewership for the outlets of World News. 

     Can you imagine a story like this:  Breaking news, "A six-year old girl has raised over $2,000 for breast cancer from her lemonade stand." This true story was inspired by her mother who is dying from the dreaded disease.

     There are millions of people who do not waste their time dwelling on the circumstances over which they have absolutely no control. They have long since learned that holding on to anything that causes unhealthy attitudes is like lugging a cross to Mt. Calvary in preparation for their own crucifixion.

     Many people are becoming more guarded about the kind of thoughts and feelings that are seeking a home within them.  They greet all changes with a neutral mind that allows them to adjust to most new circumstances. Spiritual cancer does not have the opportunity to develop and grow roots.

     The Biblical model for this attitude and the behavior that followed was Joseph, son of Jacob.   Think of it.  His brothers sold him to a traveling caravan.  Imagine seeing your homeland disappear over the horizon as the group traveled toward Egypt.

     Next, Potiphar, the Captain of Pharaoh's Secret Service, bought Joseph from the leaders of that caravan.  The young man applied his skills and eventually was asked to be the manager of Potiphar's household.  

     In the midst of performing his duties, Joseph was approached by Potiphar's wife who began to make herself available to him.  After receiving several refusals, she told her husband that, "This Hebrew that you brought into our household tried to rape me."  (Genesis 39:14) Joseph was relieved of his duties and was sent to prison. 

     While in prison, Joseph began making suggestions that would improve conditions in the prison and soon the head-jailer turned the prison over to him to manage.  Again, his organizational skills worked for him.

     When Pharaoh's wine steward was getting ready to be released from the same prison, Joseph said, "Please tell Pharaoh that I am here because of false charges."  The wine steward, however, remained silent after his release.  Either he forgot or he chose not to rock the boat now that he had his freedom.

     However, when Pharaoh was being tormented by his dreams, it was then that the wine steward found the opportunity to discuss Joseph. "I was in prison with a man named Joseph who could interpret dreams."  Joseph was freed and because of his gift of understanding the meaning of dreams, he became the second in command of the most powerful nation in the world.

     In spite of the lack of justice in Joseph's life, his orientation toward God never wavered.  He never allowed thoughts, emotions, or his energy to fester about the conditions of his life. He considered that his experiences were all part of his training for tasks waiting for him in the future. He used his best skills in every circumstance regardless of where he found himself.  He was always being helpful to his masters.

     When Joseph eventually revealed his identity to his brothers in one of the most dramatic moments in the Old Testament, he came before them dressed in high level, royal Egyptian garments.  He said:

Please come closer to me. I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  Do not be upset and blame yourselves because you sold me as a slave. It was really God who sent me ahead of you to save the lives of many people.  (Genesis 45:4f)

    What a powerful reunion followed with Joseph and his brothers. The brothers were crying so loudly that the servants reported the event to Pharaoh.

     Joseph demonstrated that people can adjust to any circumstance.  He had a skill that we could label as a practice of instant forgiveness, but that would not be accurate. To forgive someone, a person must first be offended. 

     There is no record that Joseph was ever offended by the behavior of others.  Every experience was understood by Joseph as an act of God preparing him for a future that he could never have anticipated.

     His response to his life-circumstances may not have come from a theology we feel comfortable believing, but look what his understanding spared Joseph from experiencing.  He was never miserable.  His skills were always a blessing to Potiphar, to the director of the prison, to the wine steward, to Pharaoh, and finally to all the people whose lives he saved from starvation.

Joseph had an attitude toward life that was indestructible eighteen centuries before Jesus was born. It worked for him.  No energy was wasted on resenting or on harboring hostile attitudes.  Who could argue with an orientation to life that opened the door to his becoming the second in command of Egypt?

     In 1979, Amanda McBroom wrote a poem that became well-known.  The poem's message defines many responses that people can have during the unfolding of their lives. At the end, she described an outcome that could be describing the response that Joseph had to life.  The poem was made famous when Bette Midler sang a song during the closing credits of the movie by the same name, The Rose.

Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed.

Some say love, it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed.

Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need,

I say love is a flower, and You its only seed.


It's the heart, afraid of breaking, that never learns to dance.

It's the dream, afraid of waking, that never takes a chance.

It's the one who won't be taken, who cannot seem to give.

And the soul, afraid of dyin', that never learns to live.


When the night has been too lonely, and the road has been too long, and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong, just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows,lies the seed, that with the sun's love, in the spring becomes the rose.



God of faithfulness, justice, and love, our lives are crowded with so many issues that require decisions from us.  We have moments when the best alternative is not clear.  We do not know how best to serve.  We want to restore hope to people’s lives but we cannot.  We want to take away people's pain and frustration but we cannot.  We want to help others perceive with love but we cannot. Such responses can only come from within each of us.  As Jesus led by example, so may we communicate your spirit as he did.  Thank you for so many opportunities to make your presence known.  Amen. 



Thank you, God, for the fragile moments in life that teach us that we do not need to know the reasons why our lives are disrupted before we trust you for the outcome of all things.  Thank you for the times when our symbols of security dissolve around us and once again, we must hold on to our peace as some unexpected event unfolds.  Thank you for the challenges that inspire us to stretch our skills of spirit. 

Why is it, O God, that so often we quickly respond with frustration when our experiences may be leading us toward a level of skill that we do not yet possess? Why is it that detours try our patience?  Why do we draw conclusions that some experiences are a waste of our time?  What could be more important than reflecting your spirit in all the places that we visit, and even during the experiences that are most unpleasant?

As we reflect on our lives thus far, who could have known anything about our futures, the tasks that we would experience, the life-partner we would one day choose, and the places we would travel.  What an adventure our lives have been! As we anticipate tomorrow, help each of us to stand ready to display our trust in you, knowing that our future will be as fascinating as our past.  Inspire us to radiate this confidence by accepting every moment as our opportunity to mirror your nature to an audience that we do not know is watching. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . . .